The Japanese Government Has Approved a Bill That Lets Emperor Akihito Abdicate

Japan's Emperor Akihito waving to well-wishers during his new year speech in Tokyo on January 2
Japan's Emperor Akihito
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20 May, 2017

The Japanese government has approved a one-off bill on Friday allowing ageing Emperor Akihito to step down from the Chrysanthemum Throne in the first imperial abdication in two centuries, since Emperor Kokaku in 1817.

Emperor Akihito said in rare public remarks previous year that he feared age and his health might make it hard for him to fulfill his duties. However, under Japanese law, he is expected to serve until his death.

Current Japanese law has no provision for abdication of the Emperor, therefore the lawmakers had to craft a legislation to make it possible for Akihito to step down.

After Emperor Akihito relinquishes the Chrysanthemum throne, he will be called "joko", an abbreviation of "daijo tenno", a title that was given in the past to an abdicated emperor, according to the bill.

In addition to prohibiting abdication, the 1947 imperial law does not recognize the so-called collateral institutional branches, making female members of the royal family lose their royal status when marrying a commoner, which has since substantially reduced the number of members of the Japanese royal family. The legislation endorsed Friday, May 19, 2017 would allow Crown Prince Naruhito to succeed his father as emperor.

While other monarchs - including Dutch Queen Beatrix - have abdicated, Japan's postwar constitution does not now allow an aging emperor to step down.

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The date of Emperor Akihito's abdication will be set in a government ordinance after the special bill is enacted, but a date at the end of December 2018 is seen as likely.

The 83-year-old Akihito will be replaced by his son, the 57-year-old Crown Prince Naruhito. Akishino's son, Prince Hisahito, 10, is the only boy of his generation in the imperial family.

The discussion about the role of royal women arose again this week after it was announced that Princess Mako, Akihito's eldest grandchild, was to be engaged to a commoner.

The scarcity of young men in the family has prompted talk of alternatives, including letting women ascend the throne, though traditionalists abhor the idea.

The timing of the abdication will be decided under a government ordinance within three years after the law's promulgation after consulting with the Imperial House Council, said the bill.


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